Brentwood, Fremont residents form group to preserve dam

Union Leader Correspondent
October 02. 2017 2:18AM
Water levels have lowered in the Exeter River after a dam was opened on Mill Road in Brentwood. (Jason Schreiber)

FREMONT — A group of Fremont and Brentwood residents has formed an association in an effort to take over a dam along the Exeter River to keep it from being torn down.

The Fremont Exeter River Dam Association is exploring options for acquiring and maintaining the privately owned dam that controls water levels in the river and could have a significant impact on residential wells and recreational activities if it were removed.

“We’re hoping that we’ll have a positive outcome,” said Frank Coughlin, a Fremont resident who lives on the river and now serves as interim communications director for the newly formed association.

The group formed after the dam’s owner, Brentwood Dam Ventures LLC of Arundel, Maine, informed residents several months ago of plans to sell or remove the aging hydroelectric dam on Mill Road in Brentwood that was built in 1927 but is not in use and is in need of costly repairs.

State and local officials from Brentwood and Fremont, along with representatives from the dam, have held meetings and met with affected residents to hear their concerns and discuss options.

The dam was opened several months ago, but hasn’t been closed because a mechanical problem with a gate hasn’t been fixed. The dam’s opening has dramatically lowered water levels, which Coughlin said has contributed to several dug wells drying up.

In his letter to residents, Naoto Inoue, principal of Brentwood Dam Ventures, indicated that the dam would require significant generator repairs to remain in use.

Removal of the dam would “return the river in this area to its natural lower level,” he said in the letter.

But removal isn’t what residents want, Coughlin said.

Given the concerns about removal, Inoue offered to sell the dam to abutting landowners.

While taking over the dam, making repairs, and maintaining it would likely be an expensive endeavor, Coughlin said it’s something residents are considering.

“The quality of life that people bought their houses to have is gone. We want to keep the dam, improve it and be able to regulate the water levels,” he said.

Another group has also been formed to help study the issues facing the dam.

The Exeter Squamscott River Educational Partnership is composed of the Exeter Squamscott River Local Advisory Committee, the towns of Brentwood and Fremont, and the UMass Boston School for the Environment.

The group’s mission is to provide nonpartisan information regarding the current state and possible future of the dam and the pros and cons of dam preservation and removal. The group, which includes work by UMass Boston students, sponsored an informational meeting last week with several experts and state and local officials.

“There’s a lot of worry and consternation among the residents because they’re directly affected no matter what the dam owner does,” said Fremont resident Ellen Douglas, an associate professor of hydrology at UMass Boston who is involved with the new partnership.

Douglas said it would likely cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to stabilize the dam and make upgrades.

“It’s a lot of money in order to bring this dam up to being compliant with state regulations,” she said.

OutdoorsLocal and County GovernmentBrentwoodFremont

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